spec fiction
the KIS.list: June 2012


Warding Off Danger

Ten years ago I took a self defense class at a place called Prepare Impact. You learn to fight physically by hitting a man in a suit and you learn how to use your words to defend yourself. During the class, I struggled with the verbal portion, and even noticed myself not speaking up during some encounters after the class. I thought I had not picked up the verbal skills.

Since taking the class my daughter has taken it every year for the last three years. At the end of each kids class, there is a demonstration where they demonstrate all of the tactics they learned. I think attending the demonstration reminds me of the strategies involved and keeps them fresh in my mind.

Last night I went to a party four blocks from my house. I left late and decided to walk home. Three blocks were on busy, well-lit streets. My block, however, secluded and tree-lined by day, is empty and shadowed at night. I turned on my block and looked behind me to see if any one was following. No one was. A third of a way down the block I looked back and saw a man crossing the sidewalk, walking toward the street. When I looked back to see if he had indeed crossed the street, I noticed he was still on my side of the street walking along the edges as if he didn't want to be seen. I crossed the street and u-turned so that I could pass him from a safe distance. When I spotted him, he was hiding behind a tree.

"I'm calling 911," I yelled. He began to walk briskly down the street. I called 911 and stayed on the phone with the 911 operator until I was able to reach my building lobby. I am thrilled that I found my voice and used it to ward of a potential attack. I didn't run, rather I thought about what would be the best way to remove myself from the victim position.

Trust me, I would not have thought of any of this myself. I spent my childhood running away from confrontations. It was the first time I actually used the Prepare training. Voicelessness is one of the most disempowering forces there are. Of course there are many times when some one will attack you no matter what, but most of the time, aggressors are looking for a victim. I have fought people off physically, I have walked away silently, and I have run and, when someone followed me and confronted me, I used my words in defense, but that was the first time I calmly followed the strategies I had learned. 1. Stay aware of your surroundings. 2. Move out of harm's way/create a safe distance. 3. Tell them what you want them to do (well I didn't do that, but I told him what I was doing). 4. Get help.

I really needed to see that I had it in me and I hope it will feed my willingness to use my voice (and encourage any one who has been considering a self defense class to go for it)

Here is the original post about my experience in the self defense class: http://www.kiiniibura.com/KISlist/2001/10/vol-9-self-defense.html

Be well. Be safe. Be love[d].

Kiini Ibura Salaam


Octavia Butler

In 2001, I attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop. A six-week experience that involved writing a story a week for six weeks under the tutelage of successful writers (and one editor) in the speculative fiction field. The first week our instructor was Octavia Butler. I had met Butler once before at the National Black Arts Festival, where I was an intern. She was a big woman with a deep and unique voice. She seemed fascinated with our offices, wanting to see more and more of where the festival was made. Years later, during the workshop, I was in a bathroom stall telling my friend loudly that I didn't want to write novels, I only wanted to write short stories. "You can't," Octavia boomed from the stall next to me. "You can't live off stories, you have to write a novel." I have not yet published a novel, though I have two of them in draft form on my hard drive.

Ms. Butler was a true original, from her outer appearance, to the workings of her mind, to her fierce themes, to her stellar artistic output. Happy birthday to her. Here's a brief para on what she tasked us with at Clarion West.

"Octavia Butler has been good: succinct, regal, clear, powerful, and encouraging. It's been so amazing to have her, a literary god, commenting on our creations, talking about our characters as if they are people she knows, giving serious consideration to the tales we presented to her. She gave us three tasks: 1. When working on a story, write one sentence that contains the character, the conflict, and the resolution and keep that sentence near you as you write your story. It will keep you from veering off into left field. Most of us found we had great character and conflict but no resolution. 2. Write down point by point, an emotionally wrenching experience we had. Take that emotion (you can use the situation too if you want, but it's not necessary to), and use it to build a story around. 3. Submit, submit, submit."

We carry on in her fierce talent, sharp mind, and unyielding vision.


READING: Tuesday, June 19—Join me!

Gathering and communing are essential aspects of the human experience. I find that when I gather with others I invariably learn more about myself. I learn more about who I am and who I’m not and who I could be if only I dared. On Tuesday, June 19, I will be joining another writer to kick of the Kindred Reading series in Brooklyn. I hope you will come and bring your energy and good vibrations; I hope you will come and give of your presence and receive whatever ideas or energies are available to you. I hope you will come and listen to Jenn and I share the fruits of our labor, and to witness to the fact that speculative writers of color are here!

Books will be on sale. See details below.

Kindred Reading Series Featuring Kiini Ibura Salaam and Jennifer Marie Brissett

The Kindred Reading Series are literary events that celebrate speculative fiction from authors of color. Each reading features writers of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds who will share imaginative works of science fiction, fantasy, urban magic, and other speculative forms. Join Kiini and Jennifer on Tuesday, June 19, to enter fantastical worlds and witness projections of people of color in the future.

When: Tuesday, June 19 • 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Where: Nova Bar, 884 Pacific Street (between Washington and Underhill) • C-train to Clinton-Washington. Walk up Washington two blocks to Pacific Street and you have arrived!

KIINI IBURA SALAAM http://www.kiiniibura.com/ A writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her fiction, which has been widely anthologized, is included in DARK MATTER, DARK EROS, and MOJO: CONJURE STORIES. Her essays have been published in COLONIZE THIS, UTNE READER, ESSENCE, and MS. MAGAZINE. She lives in Brooklyn. She will be reading from her forthcoming collection of stories ANCIENT, ANCIENT published by Aqueduct Press.

JENNIFER MARIE BRISSETT http://www.jennbrissett.com/ A Jamaican-American-Brit, she is a writer, artist, and former bookseller. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine and her stories can be found in WARRIOR WISEWOMAN 2, THE FUTURE FIRE, and HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS. Her first novel ELYSIUM is currently being shopped to publishers and she is working on her second novel, ELEUSIS. She was the owner of the Brooklyn indie bookstore INDIGO CAFÉ & BOOKS.

Future readings in the Kindred Reading Series Thursday, July 19th - N. K. Jemisin and Daniel José Older Thursday, Sept 20th - K. Tempest Bradford and Ibi Zoboi Thursday, Oct 25th - Linda Addison and Zetta Elliot

Review of my book from a totally biased source (my brother!)

So I’ve been having a difficult time securing book reviews. I hear that, unless you’re established, it’s just difficult to get reviews and you have to keep pushing. I hope that anyone who buys the book from Amazon and enjoys it will post a positive comment or two on the Amazon site. While I’m waiting for reviewers to review, I’ve compiled the comments my brother sent out after reading my book in stages. He is, of course, a totally biased source, but it does paint a picture of some of the stories in the book.

BOOK REVIEW of Ancient, Ancient from a totally biased source—my brother.

Last night, after the Heats/Celtics game, I put my daughter to bed, took the plastic off of Kiini’s book (do books really need to be shrink-wrapped in plastic...and if so, why?) and started reading. I’ve read Kiini’s stories before—I’ve even edited a few of them. I was still surprised. The characters are more 3-D, more real, more alive when read in print than when read via an email screen.

In the first story, a petty-minded and fantastically vain little deity uses an innocent bystander to get out of scrape. Everything goes fine until dude finds out that accidental goddesses aren’t always willing to give up their powers as easily as they’ve acquired them. The world these people (are they people? it’s hard to tell...but ultimately irrelevant) occupy is as lush as Pangea (or whatever planet it was where the Avatar people lived), but as gritty and palpable as your favorite big city’s skid row. It’s the kind of thing you finish reading and kind of blink and look around, like, “Where am I? Oh, right. At home on the sofa.”

I had only intended to read the first story then hit the sack (most Friday nights, I'm tired), but I turned the page anyway. One more. This one features a girl with honey-colored skin and some kind of mystical-sexy way of dancing who hits the club not to get her groove on, but to pick up a man. But she’s not trying to take him home—not right away, at least—she actually wants something else from him. I won’t give away the details, but last night while I was sleeping, it occurred to me that the whole thing could actually work as a metaphor for those females (and males too, of course) you meet who want you only for what they can get from you (money, a drink, sex, their NOPSI bill marked ‘paid’, someone to listen to the details of their boring-ass personal life even though they have no intention of ever listening to your boring stories...this is all hypothetical, of course). At the end of the story, ol’ girl borrows 1,000 pairs of wings and flies away. Not figuratively, literally. I'm a man, so I guess I was supposed to be relating to the dude she leaves standing their mired to the asphalt, like, “Damn, she flies too?” but I was actually relating to her. Sometimes I fly too—only when I’m dreaming though.

And that’s what I really like about Kiini’s stories so far...reading them is like dreaming while you’re awake. Things don’t make 100% sense the way tables and chairs and apples and dress shoes hurting your feet makes sense. But the point of the story makes sense: if you have some uniquely good shit, don’t go around teasing other people with it. Or, if you meet a girl and think she’s The One, don’t be surprised if one fine day you look over at her and she’s just...gone.


Just finished “MalKai’s Last Seduction.” Fascinating, riveting work. Perhaps the best of the three so far. Particularly surprising to me given that I’m not gay and don’t really identify with the sexuality of the character in the story.


Hey, by the way, I finished the book. I really enjoyed it, Kiini. There’s lots of good stuff in there. The nectar harvesters are a novel waiting to happen...you have to know that already, right? Those were my favorite stories of the bunch. Not only that, they could easily turn into a series—not sure if that’s even something you want. The whole thing was quite cinematic and rich with metaphor and implications that reach beyond the literal.

Other than those, I really enjoyed the NYC story where the young Creole lady traded her baby for piece of mind. I like how you said she lost the baby in the first sentence. It immediately let the reader know you were going for an archetype—the suspense, after all, was over before it’d begun. I was reminded of the Gil Scott-Heron remake of Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil” mixed with “NY is Killing Me.” Also, the description of the city was almost breathtaking in its elegance and simplicity. In those passages, you distilled your writing to the essence of what must be said to get the point across.

It reminded me of that dude who wrote Arrow of God and Things Fall Apart. Individual sentences neither sparkle nor command attention, but the paragraphs and pages have such a weighty, communicative effect, that you can’t imagine a single word being either added or taken away. I was reminded of a perfect piece of architecture. Or a table crafted by an old, artisan furniture-maker. You look at the thing and can’t imagine that that particular piece of wood was ever intended for anything other than ‘table’.

Also, I can’t release you from my rambling without mention of your overly fertile imagination. I can’t conceive of where or how you came up with bitter old men who punish their grandkids by sending them spiraling through time or space colonies guided by the mammalian divination of ferrets, but, more power to you. The concepts alone were enough to have me shaking my head.

*** BOOK REPORT: Tracking the Process of Ancient, Ancient ***

So last week my publisher sent 39 books to Amazon because they were out of stock, again. And now it looks like there are two books left. Has Amazon ordered more? Will I be getting the dreaded "Out of Stock" posting on my Amazon page again?

I'm planning a trip home to New Orleans and will do at least one reading there at Community Book Center, though I hope to do a reading at one of the uptown bookstores as well as a radio show.

And don’t forget, if you're in NYC/Brooklyn, Tuesday night, please come to the launch of the Kindred Reading Series. I'll be reading from Ancient, Ancient, and Jennifer Marie Brissett will be reading from her work. This will be a monthly series of spec fic writers of color. Join us if you're free!

When: Tuesday, June 19 • 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Where: Nova Bar, 884 Pacific Street (between Washington and Underhill)
C-train to Clinton-Washington. Walk up Washington two blocks to Pacific Street and you have arrived!


Vol. 79, Fighting the Regularity of Normalcy

The last time I remember reading my work was four years ago at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. This weekend at the Wiscon feminist speculative fiction conference, I read two stories and spoke on a panel. It felt wonderful to be embodying my writing self again.

I came to Wiscon Feminist Speculative Fiction Conference because it was time. I have dragged my feet on convening with writers and readers for many many years. Even as Wiscon had been described to me, I didn’t really understand what a feminist speculative fiction conference would be. I now understand that it’s a place that works to hear all voices and make space for all listeners. Which means that attendees direct programming by coming up with ideas and descriptions of panels, readings and workshops. Attendees people the panels, selecting panels they want to sit on and providing the content of the workshops. There is an access coordinator making sure there is access for everyone whether it's space for a wheelchair or reserved seating for someone who needs to sit closer to hear.

Just as my life isn’t just about making art, the conference wasn’t just about writing. I spent one day discussing the silences around reproductive health, learning about sex education for children, and reading my stories. It was a little bit like having a menu of college seminars you could mix and match to make your own experience. It made me think about the Occupy movements and their attempts to create a new society, a new way of being. It seems that's exactly what Wiscon is focused on every year. The conversations I participated in about a more expansive, more inclusive, healthier world will stick with me for quite some time. And may even influence my next project.

At the same time, it was great fun watching the swarm of awareness about my book build over the weekend. As I sat on a panel, volunteered at a party, participated in a book launch, passed out flyers for my book, and did a reading, I met/connected with more and more people. The flyers were actually something I had created for the National Black Book Festival. I never used them there, so I brought them with me. It became something I could hand out as I told people about the book. Little by little people began to say that they had bought my book. By the final day, people were showing up to the signing table saying they hadn't heard of the book, but it had been recommended to them by a friend and they bought it at the last minute.

There is something unique about seeing how your presence touches the world. It’s hard to see the effects of your efforts in everyday life. You act and hope that your actions ripple out to reach others. It’s difficult to be certain that your kindnesses, your hard work, or your creative output actually contribute to growth and change in the world. So it was particularly thrilling to actually watch awareness of my work spread through my interactions with others. And it occurred to me that the silences in our lives do not mean that a particular part of ourselves is dead; it may be burrowing deeper, it may be healing in slumber, it may be shoring itself up. I am deeply grateful that my inability to continuously engage with my writing has not severed my connection to my art. I am also grateful to meet and interact with so many people on their paths continuing to work to create the lives that they want to live. Inspiration is contagious!

When the friend who repeatedly suggested that I attend a con asked me if I was enjoying myself, I said I was having fun and it felt wrong somehow. Not bad wrong but giggly wrong. I spend money eating out, securing shelter, paying for expansive experiences for my child, but to join others in expanding my mind, my sense of self, and the value of my work? Rarely do I spend money doing that. (Or should I say, infrequently. I do and have done it, but it's not a regular part of my life.)

There are two more conferences that I hope to attend, but I’m still a little off balance by it all. It’s a conversation that I've had with myself while traveling too. I’ve said: Wow, I’m on this airplane to this foreign country simply because I said I wanted to go. I’m fascinated with the gap between what we’re capable of having and doing and what we actually allow ourselves to have and do. The regularity of normalcy, the experiences that we normalize can become dominant dictators of our future paths... and there must be a constant breaking through to make space for the growth and expansion of a newer you.

... growing!

Be well. Be love[d].

Kiini Ibura Salaam

PS: Here’s a throwback from two years ago. Poscastle recorded audio of my story “Debris.” If you didn’t listen when I posted it two years ago, take a listen!

*** BOOK REPORT: Tracking the Progress of Ancient, Ancient ***
Amazon has finally ordered my book from the publisher. So far I have sold three books online: thank you, San Diego (my brother), Seattle (my Oaxaca besties?), and Springfield, MA, (a fan?). Selling these three books lifted me from a ranking of #200,000 to #34,275. The rankings are super fluid, but it’s nice to see the numbers moving. Amazon ordered 9 books, so my assumption is that some other lovely people have bought as well.

Amazon has also changed the note on the book’s page from the foreboding “Out of stock” to the more welcoming: “This book ships in two to three weeks.” Both those statements basically mean the same wait for the consumer, but they leave the buyer with very different impressions, so thank you Amazon! I hope to translate these sales into positive reviews on Amazon because after a certain number of positive reviews, Amazon starts to believe there is money to be made and starts including the book on search results and use other subtle marketing techniques to push the book.

I am still working to secure new reviews. None have come in yet, but I have communicated with more reviewers.

My publisher deemed the book’s launch at Wiscon a success with 39 books sold. [cheering!]


Be well. Be love[d].

Kiini Ibura Salaam